That is, of course, if you don’t value the takeaway—a statistic the defense clearly hasn’t valued since 2011.
But lack of takeaways, aside, it’s hard to affix blame for Sunday’s loss on Keith Butler’s unit, not when the 24 points his guys allowed should have been good enough for a lopsided victory.
No, yielding 24 points doesn’t exactly remind one of the ‘76 Steelers (or, for the younger people—like, even me—the ‘08 edition), but if you watched the game, you know that amount should have been more than enough to obtain victory.
And if the offense and special teams didn’t do their parts to demoralize the defense on several occasions, Denver may not even have sniffed 20 points, let alone 24.
That’s right, when your offense and special teams combine to leave at least—AT LEAST—20 points on the football field, that’s where the blame for a seven-point loss safely rests.
And you can blame game-planning if you want—some people have been questioning the run/pass or, better yet, pass/run ratio (58 passes vs. 16 runs)—but it was a good enough game-plan for Pittsburgh to move the football all day long to the tune of 527 yards of total offense.
The game-plan seemed superb when Xavier Grimble pulled in a perfectly executed tight end screen pass early in the second quarter and had the easiest touchdown of his life just waiting for him in the end zone. Only, he never really made it to the end zone, because instead of being smart in so many different ways—including placing the football in his left arm—he decided to impose his will on defensive back Will Parks right around the half yard line. Avoiding him altogether seemed like the smarter choice, especially after Parks separated Grimble from the football just long enough for it to roll out of bounds and be ruled a touch-back.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also deserves blame for doing his very best to ensure he won’t be included in the MVP discussions after two more interceptions on Sunday to go with the three he had a week earlier against the Jaguars. Unfortunately, unlike the Jacksonville game, Roethlisberger couldn’t overcome his miscues.
His first interception came late in the third quarter, just when it looked like Pittsburgh, who had managed to overcome Grimble’s gaffe to establish a 17-10 lead, was about to impose its will on the inferior Broncos.
Two plays after the interception by Chris Harris, which he returned to the Steelers 43, Denver found its way into the end zone to knot the score at 17.
Roethlisberger’s second interception occurred in the end zone with a little over a minute to play, just when it looked like the Steelers, who were now trailing 24-17 and faced a third and goal from the three, were about to tie the game.
The reason the Steelers were trailing 24-17 was because James Conner, the running back with a great story, has decided to include “Ball Security Issues” as a pretty weak chapter. After failing to hold onto two important passes late in the game against Jacksonville, Conner fumbled the football after a sizable gain at the end of the third quarter that would have set Pittsburgh up in great position to break a 17-17 tie. Instead, the Broncos recovered Conner’s fumble and broke the tie themselves, on an 11-play, 79-yard touchdown drive.
That’s four turnovers with two of those preventing what should have been easy touchdowns, and Conner’s that prevented at least—AT LEAST—a field goal.
And, then, of course, you can’t forget about the blocked field goal early in the game that could have given the Steelers another three points.
That’s 20 points by my count. That’s good enough for an easy road victory.
When someone says a team gave a game away, they’re not always thinking rationally. However, the Steelers game-long gift-giving of unwrapped footballs to the Broncos on Sunday was the very definition of giving a game away.